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A family affair at West Bay’s skittles club

The skittles season is rolling along nicely across West Dorset.

Yet out of all the pubs in all the villages that play the game, one is unique. Not for its location, but for its skittles club’s longevity, thanks mainly to the tradition handed down by a handful of West Dorset families who have helped sustain it for more than 100 years.

Since it started in 1909, West Bay Skittles Club has had just five presidents, all Palmers. Cleeves Palmer is the most recent, beginning his tenure in 2011.

Up till 1947, (excepting 1925-7) the club chairmanship was shared between just four families, Guppy, Loud, Good and Wyatt. Today, the Good and Wyatt families are into their fourth successive generation of players.

So is it a private club with an element of feudalism? Dorset has traditionally had landowning families with large estates down the years.

George Wyatt and John Good say no, but both take time to share their “family tree” of club membership.
John Good’s grandfather, Norman was one of the founding members, and was its third chairman after A.J Guppy (1909-16) and C.H Loud (1919-23).

John explains: “He took the role for just one year, but his son Reg was appointed in 1931 and kept the job through the Second World War when we didn’t play, till 1947, except for three years when the Wyatts took over. Norman’s other son, Geoffrey, my father, was secretary for so many years he never got the chair,’’ he adds.

In fact there was a 53 year gap until John himself took the chair in 2000. ‘‘My sons Chris and Will are now members, while my youngest, Sam, is now landlord of the West Bay Hotel, where we play,’’ he continues.

George Wyatt’s family are also strongly linked. ‘‘It all started with my grandfather Robert who joined the club in the 1920’s, and was chair from 1934 for three years. Then it was the turn of my father, Ralph in 1955, his brother Jack in 1961, my older brother Robert (1978) and my turn in 1986. Now my son Daniel’s been a club member since 2006,’’ he says.

George and Robert Wyatt both farm at Stoke Abbot, between Salway Ash and Beaminster. George says that West Dorset farmers played a large part in supporting the club.

“After a busy day on the land, it was great to jump in the car and drive down to the coast to let off steam and knock down some skittles over a beer.’’

Other West Dorset businessmen and their families also feature in the records, as past chairmen, E.J.D Balson (1969), J.R.B Bowditch (1988), A.J.Wakely (1999) amongst them. The Guppy and Loud families still continue to run businesses in West Bay.

skittles scoreboard
The Palmers’ connection was fundamental in the club’s beginning, and continues today, as John explains.

“The original skittle alley was in an old stable at the Old Gravel Yard. But with the help of Palmers it was relocated to the rear of the West Bay Hotel. Palmers may own the pub, but the club owns the alley, even if they still commission Palmers to help them out with its maintenance.’’

The club consists of 80 members. They run 10 teams and membership is temporarily closed, simply because they’re not able to accommodate any more at present.

“One good thing is, you can turn up of an evening and not know who you’ll play alongside, or even if you’ll definitely get a game, but there’s always the social side,” explains John.

George adds: “There’s normally a turnover of people, but currently nobody wants to leave. Our oldest player’s in his eighties!’’

Skittlers are proud of their game, and say any connection with 10-pin bowling is irrelevant. 10-pin lanes are a standard size with three finger-holes in the balls, and the pins are arranged in a triangle formation similar to that of snooker balls in a triangle.

Skittle alleys don’t have to be the same size, the pins are set in a diamond formation (the middle one is taller than the rest), the balls have no finger holes and you can, (and George did, as he demonstrated his skittling ability) roll the ball through the nine skittles, missing every single one!

skittles down


Youth Cricket in West Dorset

The Yarn’s guide to youth cricket in Dorset

Have I just seen our 2031 Ashes hero? OK, that’s 16 years away, but with the current series against Australia now under way, we’ve been looking at the strength of youth cricket here in West Dorset in 2015.

Yarn’s very own cricket fan Peter Smith (not much of a player but has commentated on the BBC’s Test Match Special), started his innings with Bridport’s Under 9’s…

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One of the Bridport Bandits' Nissan Micras at the workshop in Bridport

On Track for Better Careers with Bridport Bandits

A young people’s motorsport project set up more than 20 years ago in Bridport, originally to turn around the lives of youngsters convicted of car crime, has been so successful that its members are fixing cars professionally, and in one case, owning a garage and employing former club members in West Dorset.

Bridport Bandits, the popular name for the Bridport Autograss Racing Club, have thrown off their original image to take boys and girls aged 11-18 with an interest in cars and teach them basic skills and more at their workshops, as well as the chance to drive in autograss races (from age 12 upwards).

The club’s instructors, with links to the motor trade in and around West Dorset, prepare race vehicles for members and support young people getting their minis to race under NASA (National Autograss Sports Association) rules and regulations.

If you go into any garage in the Bridport area you’ll find someone who is a former Bridport Bandit

Club secretary Martin Singer reckons the group is probably unique. “Unlike other similar teams who get financial support from their local authority, we don’t get any, and we rely entirely on donations,” he said. “It’s an expensive sport with a cost of around £2,000 per year, per car to maintain, and not all parents can make that sort of financial contribution on behalf of their kids.”

But such is the club’s reputation for social responsibility, keeping youngsters off the streets and giving them a constructive hobby which has sparked careers, organisations like Bridport Round Table have helped the Bandits out.

“Members picked up litter after the beer festival and we were at the Boxing Day swim. In return they gave us donations for which we are grateful but we do have to actively fundraise to keep afloat,” he said. Martin spoke with pride about the success of one of the former members, Ryan Bennett. “Ryan learned the basics with us, then went on to be an apprentice, became a fully qualified mechanic, started his own business on the Pineapple Business Park in Salway Ash, and now takes on apprentices who came through the club just like him. If you go into any garage in the Bridport area you’ll find someone who is a former Bridport Bandit.”

The club races in the Junior Autograss Class with 1000cc classic minis and competes in the Southern League some Sundays, often at their home track, the Wessex Motor Racing Club at Bearley, near Tintinhull, Yeovil.

One of Bridport Bandits' Nissan Micras racing

The Bandits currently have 15-20 members and meet at their garage in Gundry Lane, next to the Bridport Youth Centre on Monday and Thursday evenings 7-9pm. Anyone interested in joining, or who has car mechanic skills to share, or would consider becoming a sponsor, should contact club secretary Martin Singer on 07888 680789.
Trevor Senior - manager of Bridport FC

Home Wins for Trevor

Why would a former football league player who scored more than 170 goals across the leagues, and is a club legend at Reading where he holds the all-time goalscoring records, choose to manage a club in the Western League where players are paid travelling expenses only, not thousands of pounds a week?

And why, six years into his current spell in charge of Bridport, is he so comfortable here despite indifferent results this season, that he would probably only be lured away from a role he clearly loves if Reading FC came calling?

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Lym Valley Croquet secretary, Steve Howard, about to play

It’s Just Not Cricket!

Guess the sport: it was dropped from the Olympics after its only appearance in 1900 for having “hardly any pretensions to athleticism”

One piece of its equipment sounds like it can be bought from a DIY shop. It’s been described as “chess on grass” by one of its players at a club in Uplyme, whose members turn out on Mondays and Thursdays at a cricket ground. The game’s popular (but not necessarily well-informed) image is of a genteel pastime more associated with period dramas like Downton Abbey, but that doesn’t fit well with the group I’m visiting who actually play the game.

It’s croquet, of course!

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